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Pakistanis protest over Rushdie honour

Pakistani parliament also renewed a call for Britain to withdraw the title and apologise for hurting Muslim feelings.

world Updated: Jun 22, 2007 23:01 IST

Hundreds of Pakistanis protested against a British knighthood for author Salman Rushdie on Friday as their parliament renewed a call for Britain to withdraw the title and apologise for hurting Muslim feelings.

Rushdie, whose 1988 novel The Satanic Verses outraged many Muslims around the world, was awarded a knighthood for services to literature in Queen Elizabeth's birthday honours list last week.

Chanting "Damn Rushdie" and "Down with Britain", about 300 Islamists rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

"Giving an award to such a big criminal is an insult to the entire Muslim world," Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a pro-Taliban cleric and leader of the opposition in parliament, told reporters.

Small protests against Rushdie were held in other Pakistani cities including Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Quetta.

Police in Srinagar also fired teargas to disperse scores of demonstrators. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Muslims say Rushdie's novel blasphemed against the Prophet Mohammad and ridiculed the Koran.

Britain has defended knighthood for Rushdie, stressing the importance of free speech and saying it was part of a trend of honouring Muslims in the British community.

This week, Pakistan and Iran protested against the honour and the Pakistani parliament condemned it in a resolution on Monday.

The National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, passed another resolution on Friday expressing dismay Britain had not reversed its decision.

"The British government has not withdrawn the title which has not only disappointed the entire Pakistani nation but has also hurt it," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi told the assembly.

"This august house again calls on the British government and its Prime Minister Tony Blair to immediately withdraw the title ... and tender an apology to the Muslim world."

Later speaking in the parliament, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz condemned the honour and said it was unacceptable to Muslims.

"Whenever there is a blasphemy against Prophet Mohammad, it would be resisted. No Muslim can tolerate this," he said.

Fatwa

At least five people were killed and scores wounded in protests against the book in the Pakistani capital in 1989.

Two days after that, the late Ayatollah Rohallah Khomeini, Iran's supreme religious leader, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling on Muslims to kill the Indian-born British writer, who spent the next nine years living in hiding.

A prominent Iranian cleric said on Friday the fatwa death warrant against Rushdie was "still alive".

A group of Pakistani hardline Muslim clerics said on Thursday it had bestowed a religious title "Saifullah" (Sword of Islam) on Osama bin Laden in response to the knighthood for Rushdie.

Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq, son of Pakistan's late military president Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, told the assembly this week that if someone committed a suicide bombing to protect the Prophet Mohammad's honour, his act was justified.

He later said he did not mean such attacks were justified but was merely saying terrorists could use the knighthood as a justification for violence.

A hardline cleric called on Wednesday for Rushdie to be killed and the next day the speaker of the Punjab provincial assembly said blasphemers should be killed.

A group of traders in Islamabad on Thursday offered a reward of 10 million rupees ($165,000) to anyone who killed Rushdie.

(Additional reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar)